Opinion: Cause without a cause (Part 1)

In part one of the opinion series, Aditya Dubash, Group Account Planner at 21N78E Creative Labs speaks about how cause marketing, while effective, shouldn’t come at the cost of compromising the brand’s ethos.

Paraphrasing from Phil Brooks’s infamous rant, “Reader, while you read this, hopefully as uncomfortable as you possibly can be with yet another brand jumping on a bandwagon, I want you to listen to me. I have a lot of things I want to get off my chest…”

One of the biggest changes in the past few years in advertising and communication has been the inclusion of brands taking a stand by supporting ‘causes’. This has no doubt led to extremely memorable moments like Always’s ‘Like a girl’ campaign or Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’.

But the real challenge stands in adopting a purpose to guide a brand’s overall strategy without being accused of inauthenticity.

Changing Perspectives 

In the past, it was clear to most brands that their marketing communication was all about showcasing the brand and product in the best light to sell the product or service to you. This was great when all you had was TV, outdoor and radio. But in today’s age, the age of dwindling attention spans (especially if we are exposed to 6,000 to 10,000 ads daily), it becomes hard to stand out.

Enter, ‘Cause Marketing’.

Brands and advertisers realized very quickly that in order to make their communication go  ‘viral’, the simplest way to do it is, “Make them cry, make them buy”. The reason for many ads to follow a pattern of ‘triggering’ us is that we register them for a long time since we start relating to them through our own emotional experiences.


But that’s not all ‘cause marketing’ is. By definition, it refers to when a company does well by doing good i.e purpose-driven marketing. It stems from the idea that a brand subscribes to a  strong ’purpose’ for being in business and aspires to use its products and reach, to cause meaningful change. A growing number of brands are relooking at what they mean, offering to their customers beyond functional benefits. A brand that stands for something will have a  higher recall – this change in perspective is caused by two factors:

  • The brand wants to show that it has more responsibility to people and society  (Lifebuoy’s ‘Help a child reach 5’, for example).
  • The customers are looking to validate their personal stance by associating themselves with a brand that reflects it (Vegan and organic food movements).

All of this has become even more pronounced in 2020-2021. Stories of brands stepping in to help people out through the pandemic have become somewhat a norm now.

Empathy has become a common communication theme across industries but that doesn’t mean that it should come at the cost of the brand’s basic promise (thank you, Bob Hoffman).

No amount of socially conscious acts will do a brand any favours if its core offering is not able to deliver upon its promise. What it actually means, is that it has become a necessity for agencies and marketing teams to fully understand and evaluate the ramifications of associating with a particular cause and look at long-term metrics and real-world impact over chasing fleeting gains such as ‘virality’.

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